Sunday, April 27, 2008

TIF for TAT 2007 Part I

Tucson, AZ. The map shown here is not perfect, showing the parking lot across from El Charro as included (no), but it is a close enough illustration of the Rio Nuevo district, minus sprout eastward to capture taxes from the El Con and Park Place Malls. Those in the know examining the situation would turn their noses. Let's discuss Rio Nuevo for the first half of 2007, a beacon of productivity and accomplishment.

Housekeeping note: Italicized content usually represents material produced by others.

November 7, 2006: 2007 Will Be a Banner Year for Rio Nuevo (Tucson Citizen). Seven years ago this week Tucson voters said "yes" to the ambitious Rio Nuevo downtown redevelopment project. It appears 2007 will be the year work shifts into high gear.

December 9, 2006: The Post will bring residents to downtown. (Tucson Citizen). Bourn Partners hopes to start construction in April. I invite the reader to visit the site.

January 3, 2007: Alexander Danehy lists as one of things he hopes happens in 2007: Millions of words on Rio Nuevo morph into at least one action on Rio Nuevo.

January 22, 2007: Business operators drawing plan for downtown (Citizen Teya Vitu). Teya refers to the Friday morning stakeholder group. The stakeholders wanted to give top priority to projects that generated additional tax revenue. The group produced one success – $100M in TIF funding allocated to infrastructure (underground water, sewer, fiber, electric as well as some sidewalks, lighting, and above ground improvements).

February 24, 2007: Time to commit to a new arena for Tucson (AZ Daily Star) TCC Director Rich Singer claims to have turned away five sports teams, three hockey, a minor league basketball team, and an arena football team, in the last four years because he thought they could not be successful in an aging arena. Tucsonans have been hearing about an arena for years. It is time to take the first step (huh?) and make the commitment.

March 15, 2007: (Andrea Kelly, AZ Daily Star) The city’s Rio Nuevo team is disbanded and sent to different city departments. City Manager Mike Hein states that he wishes to "institutionalize Rio Nuevo efforts" rather than have them in a single office. As part of the move, Rio Nuevo Director Greg Shelko as well as staff member Bill O’Malley moves to the TCC to hang out with Rich Singer.

April 15, 2007: The Bloated Burrito The AZ Daily Star publishes the names submitted by readers for the new downtown arena. They include: Payday Loans Arena, Rich Singer Arena, No Science Center Arena, Arena de Sol, The Bloated Burrito, Barrel Cactus Palace, E-Z Cash Auto Title Loan Arena, Tucson Turtle Dome.

April 18, 2007: $130 M latest price tag for UA science center (Tucson Citizen Teya Vitu) By this time the construction of Cleveland on top of I-10 has been handily dismissed. No bridge. Before the science center can be constructed, the infrastructure to support it has to be completed. Is this occurring? No. Why? Why does anything happen (or not)?

Approval to spend and the money to spend are not the same.

April 19, 2007: As Rio Nuevo flows along, public is left high and dry (Tucson Citizen). Assuming the public will have its say, we can measure Rio Nuevo progress on three fronts by the city:

1) Working with the UA on the science center
2) The new arena
3) A first class convention center area hotel

Today’s date is April 27, 2008.

April 19, 2007: Lawmakers happy to see movement on Rio Nuevo (Arizona Daily Star Daniel Scarpinato). The council voted unanimously to approve the $130 M arena and a $60 M expansion of the TCC. Rep. Steve Farley states, "The biggest thing I’ve learned from public opinion on Rio Nuevo is: Get it moving."

April 27, 2007: Transparency is apparently inconvenient (AZ Daily Star)
With council’s nod, the tenth floor circumvents all opportunities for the public to have input on the Rio Nuevo plan, voting on half a billion dollars without any real discussion of the subject. Ordinarily, the matter would have been discussed by Nina Trasoff’s Rio Nuevo sub-committee, a citizen’s advisory committee, and Rio Nuevo’s own board. None of the three were presented with the plan. Hein presents the plan to the council, skipping all the steps, and the council votes for it at once without public discussion.

Bottom line: Seven to eight years of frustration lead to a rushed vote of a problematic nature about to unfold.

May 7, 2007: Rio Nuevo is out – project is rebranded (AZ Daily Star Rob O’Dell). Rio Nuevo is renamed "Downtown Redevelopment" having something to do with encouraging the private sector to be involved (uh, who were the Friday AM stakeholders?). O’Dell concludes, "Does the name change illustrate a step forward for Downtown?"

May 19, 2007: Development: two viewpoints (Tucson Citizen Guest Writer Ralph Applebaum and Associates, Inc). $581 M dollars of TIF cash. But how to spend?

Don Martin submits intelligent remarks about leveraging the funding. The Friday AM stakeholders produce plans and numbers and projections, emphasizing the use of early money on commercial development. Most of their recommendations are discarded. In fact, it’s time to "consolidate" and create a larger group called the "Downtown Tucson Partnership" with a new board and new connections. The stakeholders, realizing their votes just got cancelled, disband. Exit Friday AM stakeholders, Enter Downtown Tucson Partnership, the Tucson Regional Downtown Authority, TRDA.

TIP: How not to win private sector involvement.


Anonymous T said...

What do you think you are doing?

4/27/2008 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what he is doing is using the sorry history of Rio Nuevo (it's a very easy target) to demonstrate another aspect of the larger overall pattern of chaos and dysfunction that seems to be the real fabric of Tucson. The failures of Rio Nuevo are laid out in a way that gives the kind of context and perspective that is sorely lacking from the coverage by the daily newspapers. How did we get to where we are today? Where are we likely headed?

The Star and Citizen (especially the Star) cover Rio Nuevo, sometimes critically, but all of their coverage is isolated, bereft of context, and done with virtually no serious attempt to tie the story together over time.

It's clear that a theme here is not just that this has been a big, long-running blunder, but that the recent decision-making activity and reorganization seems to indicate an integration with the Cloth Weavers who are asserting control over Tucson wherever they can (including a recent attempted takeover of the school district).

It looks like all vestiges of public oversight have been dissolved, while semi-formal attempts to participate have been quashed in favor of bringing in the usual suspects--the ones that brought us TREO for example--to rubberstamp the wishes of the unelecteds on the tenth floors.

Keep it up, x4mr! Keep holding up the mirror in front of the vampires!

4/27/2008 10:55 PM  
Blogger Travis said...

Hmmm... A couple thoughts. But I'm kinda cranky today.

First, I think that pulling this all together into a chronology reaveals a lot. And kudos for smacking the local media in the face with your gloves for having a lack of ability to illuminate anything here.

On the "gerrymandered" tax zone, however, I think you missed a well-pubcized point. The tax capture ploy was actually to take advantage of a state law that allowed communities to keep sales taxes from "development" areas local rather than giving them up to the state. The law had a deadline and the City moved quick to grab what they could. That's actually smart. And to get two... (okay, let's admit, El Con is totally FUBAR, but that's 'cause the owners lack any marketing knowledge and have too much ego to admit it) well, one of our major shopping centers and a major commercial cooridor into the deal was also smart. It keeps the money here.

What's happened with the funds since... not so smart.

However, reflecting on the media thing, could their lack of real interest/investigation have anything to do with the public's lack of interest/inquiry? They do, after all, have to cater to their audience. It's all measured by circulation numbers. Also, they're sort of shrinking... which leaves fewer reporters to cover a lot of stuff.

Teya, in particular, is actually a very smart cookie and holds a few opinion not too distant from those expressed right here. However, he's also a professional and has to maintain an "objective" take on things. That and there are a LOT of individuals with press releases in hand who want to spin that "objectivity".

Now, they do question things here and there. Born Partners have certainly been raked over the coals about the Post not being started. However, that's a private (not a public) project. (Of course it's easy to say that he got land for a steal. If you were in that business and the opportunity arose, wouldn't you?) But where do we place someone like this? Don's listed on the supercommittee AND he's got actual skin in the game. Word is, he's even selling his house with plans of moving into the post when it's completed (soon?).

In watching the discussion of a "wiki" or database of the city's "players". I think that would be more useful in an historical sense. This kind of "power crowd" is ephemeral. It ebbs and flows. Players come and go. Some overlap, some don't. But I will criticize that it's easy to sit back and take shots. Better than a database, what about this blog's participants. How many of these "players" do you know? (And why haven't you gotten to know more of them?) How many do we collectively know? And, can you seperate them into those who actually have the community's best interest at heart? I'll even name a few names. To varying degrees, I know Walkup, Myers, Hecker, Born, Martin, Huckelberry, Chihak, Lynn, Quinlan, Bronson, Glassman, Merryman, Flores, and Kolbe. I've had at least one beer with each of them. On that list are some who incredible amount for our community. There are others who, well, have other interests at heart. (I'll tell you though, if you want to hear the no-bullshit version of anything AND have a great time hearing it, Martin's your man.)

These are from the list of "big names". What I don't see being discussed are the lesser players (those in supporting, rather than starring, roles). You'd need a database of them, too. In many case, they have equal or more influence.

Rather than simply slam a group, can we pinpoint why attempts at leadership get so ground down before fruition?

What are the threads that bound Reo Nuevo so tightly that it couldn't move forward as everyone hoped. (Come on, we have been trying to bring downtown back since the Pioneer Hotel fire rendered it a ghost downtown. What is really missing? And I'll tell you that Tucson's not the only city dealing with this exact same issue right now. It's like the entire nation decided to revitalize downtowns simultaneously.)

How many participants can tell me what a NIMBY is? Have you ever tried to direct how public money should be spent? What interests diverted it? The science center (the center, not the infrastructure) is a great idea that showcases how intelligent our community really is. It also had incredible political support. Is it stalled? Why? The bridge was just an idea. Someone has to put ideas out there. Do we just shoot them down and hold them up as trophies? Then how does the community discuss this type of thing? What are the best ideas to come out of Rio Nuevo? How can we build on those?

I guess I just hate seeing the discussion taking a turn where we're conspiracy theorizing, burning effigees, or witch -hunting rather than having a smart dicsussion. How many of the "supergroup" are effective and have moved things forward? Who would you champion as effective leaders (supergroup or not)?

Jumping back for a moment to the shrinking newspaper world (sadly, they just can't figure out how their outdated business model isn't working in the Web 2.0 world; Craig's List alone has decimated the revenue staple that was classifieds). This means many of the torches newspapers used to carry (i.e. pick apart messes like Rio Nuevo and tell us what really happened) have to be picked up by someone... how about citizen journalists (x4mr)?

That's what (I assume, I hope) he thinks he's doing here.

4/28/2008 11:14 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Terrific comments. What I think I am doing, at the minimum, is presenting some facts in a more penetrating manner than presented by the press. Secondly, I attempt to present the information from a lens with several distinctions:

Cloth – by which I mean empty rhetoric and glossy strategic plans, blueprints, web sites, mission statements, and other showmanship that does not forward tangible accomplishment. Ever attend a Workforce Investment Board meeting? Did you go to TREO’s thing last month? Another way to think of it is the emperor and the clothes. It is not black and white. I would assert Goodwill Industries of Tucson has very little cloth, while TREO is almost 100%. I bet the MTCVB cloth figure is quite high.

Swine – by which I mean individuals who profit very handsomely working the flaws of the system and actually contributing very little. Think favored contractors, attorneys, consultants, etc. One scam, the “cat’s meow,” involves retiring from the city or county and then being re-hired to “double dip” and make a fortune in posh jobs without deliverables. I won’t name names, but the list is long of people on public dole that do nothing. Why is this tolerated?

Cluster – the systemic gridlock and incompetence caused by the infestation of the above. In a functioning system, no way could TREO operate the way that it is or commit the unconscionable acts that it has. I met with Bruce Ash last week. We spoke for quite some time, and he and I have a lot in common. We both believe in responsible government that provides effective leadership. That’s not what we have from either party right now.

Neither the problem, nor the solution, is as simple as getting the conspiracy of bad guys and replacing them with good guys. Among others, one theme of the blog is to present facts and then apply some hopefully intelligent analysis and perspective, keeping in mind (trust me) that this place is not read by idiots or people shy to let me have it if I get out of line.

4/28/2008 1:33 PM  
Blogger Policon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/28/2008 2:30 PM  
Blogger Cigar Man said...

I think the comment Travis made is spot on, and I don’t think x4mr is pursuing a witch-hunt. He has already posted material highlighting that the first step of the tipping process is asking the hard questions and noting the facts. That x4mr met with Bruce Ash last week says a lot. First, it says that Ash was willing to sit down with x4mr for a period of time and discuss issues and Tucson. That points to a lot.

I don’t know who or how, but x4mr’s blog has definitely acquired infrastructure. He is not some guy googling all day to create blog stories. Frankly, I am quite impressed. His depictions of both events and people reflect an insight I never would have predicted. I remember laughing when he claimed to be an Independent. I don’t laugh about that anymore.

Like Travis said (and I think x4mr would agree), it is easy to just complain or pick people to trash and blame. As far as I can remember, and it’s been awhile, the blog has only trashed people that have it coming. I remember when SAIAT was still operating, a company needed to train its workers in math skills to get a certain certification. The county got $40,000 to pay for it. X4mr’s course would have been PERFECT.

Art Eckstrom cannot stand x4mr. He flat out ordered Jim Mize and the rest of the workforce people that SAIAT would never get to do any training with such funding. People even protested, "Matt’s program is perfect!"

That his course changed people’s lives is not an exaggeration. I remember first hearing about that class. Bronson and Hank Atha knew. It didn’t matter. They gave PCC $40,000 and got crappy instruction. I don’t know downtown, but Rio Nuevo sounds like par for the course in workforce development. Instead of developers, it’s PCC, and that is one juicy trough. Look at how many people truly finish Job Path training, all taught by PCC at inflated prices.

4/28/2008 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city's ploy to capture state sales taxes generated at a mall 8 miles away, from sales transactions that had absolutely no relationship to the developments planned for downtown, may have been clever and may have satisfied Tucsonans who felt that our city usually gets the funding shaft from the state, but now that the city has squandered this opportunity, it serves as an easy excuse for the state legislature to pull the plug on the tif when they see that the city has made no move to generate new state sales tax in downtown.

It comes down to the fact that the city has never had a vision for downtown to have a lot of business including retail. They look to perpetuate it as a government ghetto. Government and the arts, maybe.

Years ago, when Rio Nuevo started, there was a developer from out of town who proposed using tif to pay for public attractions like museums or an aquarium (a popular idea at the time floated by a local group of marine biologists and scuba divers) so that people would come downtown and then shop at the retail center they wanted to build. That would have generated new sales taxes that were functionally related, or at least geographically related, to the expenditure of tif funds on the public attractions.

But the neighborhood west of downtown didn't want a big shopping center there, so the city capitulated (thanks, Jose and Luis!). The city took the idea to use tif from the developer, but then, since they weren't really going to support retail in downtown, they had to come up with the tif district that looks like a very long rifle.

People in Tucson thought it so very clever that we finally pulled one over on Phoenix, but you know what? Ten years later, and no new commercial development in the downtown part of the tif district (where all the money is spent) . . . this city government is tempting the state to revoke the whole thing. Then they won't look so clever.

4/28/2008 6:29 PM  
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